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Opinion

EDITORIAL - Vulnerable to job scams

The Philippine Star

With 2.68 million employable Filipinos out of work in August – 5.3 percent of the nation’s workforce – and another 7.03 million underemployed or 14.7 percent, the country clearly needs to generate more jobs. And not just the seasonal work in the agriculture sector, or contractual jobs in construction, but sustained employment with decent pay.

The lack of such jobs makes Filipinos vulnerable to illegal recruiters and human traffickers, even in conflict zones and other high-risk areas. Financial difficulties arising from the pandemic have increased the vulnerability of the needy to job scams. The traffickers have also gone high-tech, facilitating recruitment while making it harder for authorities to track them down and freeze dirty money.

Recently, 12 overseas Filipinos workers managed to flee from a cryptocurrency investment scam operation at the Shwe Kokko Special Economic Zone or Yatai New City in Myanmar’s border with Thailand. Sen. Risa Hontiveros said more than 30 other trafficked OFWs could be trapped in such operations. In a privilege speech last week, she said Filipinos were being lured through Facebook to jobs in Thailand ostensibly as data encoders and call center customer service representatives.

A Chinese mafia has reportedly turned Shwe Kokko in Myanmar into a new online gaming hub following the shutdown of such operations in Cambodia. The mafia runs the human trafficking operation that forced the rescued OFWs to flirt online and dupe the victims into investing in cryptocurrency sites. Hontiveros said she received reports that the OFWs were forced to work at least 12 hours a day, and given a quota of victims. If the quota was not met, she said the OFWs were hit with electric rods, forced to carry gallons of water or do up to 1,000 push-ups.

Apart from exerting more effort to generate decent jobs in the Philippines, authorities must intensify the housecleaning in the Bureau of Immigration, which has been rocked by corruption scandals linked to casinos and Philippine offshore gaming operator or POGO firms in the past. Despite dubious work documents, the OFWs allegedly paid up to P20,000 to immigration personnel to be able to leave the Philippines for Myanmar.

Studies have shown that Chinese gangsters have been duping people from Southeast Asia, India and even Africa to work under captive, slave-type conditions and engage in digital and cryptocurrency scams in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. The workers reportedly use Facebook, LinkedIn and Tinder to find victims. Beyond warning the people about such job scams, the government must do more to create meaningful jobs, so that Filipinos need not leave their families and their country to seek employment in Myanmar.

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